Last year, Stratasys and Kor Ecologic introduced the first 3-D printed car. A few days ago, researchers demonstrated the viability of 3-D printed organs. And now EADS, the European Aerospace and Defense Group, has figured out how to construct a 3-D printed bicycle—out of nylon, no less.
The Airbike was manufactured using Additive Layer Manufacturing (ALM), which takes a computer-aided design and builds it with a laser-sintering process that adds successive, thin layers of a structural material until a final product emerges. The bike's nylon frame is strong enough to replace aluminum or steel, and weighs up to 65% less than conventional models.
So far, the Airbike is just a technology demonstrator—there are no plans for commercial production. But the bike's technology has uses far beyond the cycling industry. Now that EADS can manipulate nylon, metals, and carbon-reinforced plastics at the molecular level, the organization envisions building lighter airplanes that save fuel and reduce CO2 emissions.
And that's just the beginning, according to EADS:
On a global scale, ALM offers potential for products to be produced quickly and cheaply on ‘printers’ located in offices, shops and houses. It would allow replacement components to be produced in remote regions, improving logistics on humanitarian relief and military operations...Further ahead, by removing production lines and the need for factories, the costs of ‘manufacturing’ will be significantly reduced and, through this, ALM has the potential to reverse trends of urbanization that have historically accompanied industrialization.
Factory towns won't disappear anytime soon, to be sure, but 3-D printing can at least make manufacturing processes simpler and more energy-efficient.